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Preserving for Access: Resolving the Dilemma of Manuscripts’ Conservation

20 March 2012
Author: Alisher Navoi Title: “Divan” Period/Year - XIX century
Author: Abu Rayhan Beruni Title: “Explanation of Origination of the Astronomy Arts” Period/Year - 1261
Author: Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) Title: “Canon of Medicine” Period/Year - 1601

“Documentary heritage, in all its diversity, is an important part of the heritage of humankind. It serves as a record of information, and as a collection of sources of history and artistic expressions. It is particularly important for social cohesion, as it constitutes the necessary basis for dialogue while building respect and mutual understanding in relations between different civilizations, societies and social groups. It contributes in an important manner to understanding and recognising the value of cultural diversity.” Fourth International UNESCO Memory of the World Conference (Warsaw, 18-21 May 2011)

The incredible richness of manuscripts has been preserved primarily due to the care undertaken through the centuries to protect them from destruction, deterioration or loss. Their historical and literary significance in regards to cultural heritage has been proven, while their educational and research purposes continue to grow. As man-made artefacts, manuscripts have preserved knowledge and wisdom over millennia due to the variety of subjects, formats and languages that they bear. Their importance in human progress has been clearly asserted, and yet they often lack sufficient preservation and monitoring. The main challenge in this field is to ensure that historic manuscripts are preserved, and that they are made accessible to present and future generations.

Manuscripts can be damaged or deteriorated as a result of a number of factors, which may include the way they have been stored (especially in regards to temperature and humidity), in addition to the presence of dust, light, pollution, insects or fungus. It is therefore recognised that storage areas need to be constantly maintained in regards to their accessibility and conditions. It is also understood that methods of display and consultation should be tightly controlled, while capacity-building needs to be provided in regards to the proper handling of manuscripts. The incorrect handling of manuscripts is understood to pose one of the greatest threats to the preservation of such treasures. It is recognised that the inproper use and storage of manuscripts may result in chemical reactions that endanger the documents, and consequently preservation management should be considered one of the main priorities in regards to the maintenance of any manuscript collection.